Saturday, June 14, 2003

Socialising animals.

Brian Micklethwait had a post a couple of days ago on the education of dolphins. Essentially the point was that dolphins have culture and not just instincts and that quite a lot can be taught to them.

This is true, and it does not just occur with dolphines. Amongs related animals, different whale populations (within the same species) are know to make quite different calls and noises to one another.

And it occurs further down the animal kingdon, hence this fascinating article from the New York Times on scientists in Arizona attempting to educate condors bred in captivity about how to live in the wild. (Link via Brad Delong). A big problem is that "condors hatched in the wild typically spend over a year with their parents, presumably learning how to be successful scavengers" whereas those bred in captivity don't. Guiding orphan condors through adolescence is not an easy thing to do.

I have never seen a condor in the wild, but I have seen one or two in captivity. They are one of nature's extreme cases. They are as large as a bird that can still fly can be. They are magnificent, but they have a certain gawkiness about them. Nature is really pushing the engineering tolerances, and it shows. They lack the seemingly effortless but slightly sinister style of some smaller birds of prey, most notably eagles.

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